Apps

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April 22, 2015

This App Lets You Send a Text 25 Years into the Future... Sort Of

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In an age of instant communication and 24-hour rolling news, the notion of posterity may seem rather quaint. The emphasis is on the now, with scant consideration for what might happen a few weeks - let alone a few years - from now.  

One new app aims to put long-term thinking back in the spotlight, by providing users with a platform to delay the release of their text messages for up to 25 years. Launched last month, Incubate Messenger is the innovation of Atlanta-based entrepreneur Michael McCluney.  

Incubate’s uses aren’t immediately obvious but, according to McCluney, it doesn’t take long for people to ‘think of reasons they need to strategically time [a] message’ when you give them the functionality. Those reasons range from forgetful spouses priming an anniversary text message months ahead of the date, to soldiers on tour sending a time-delayed SMS to their kids when they know they’ll be unable to reach a phone on duty. In addition to SMS messaging, movies, photos and audio messages are also catered for by the app.

McCluney’s lightbulb moment came when an exhausted friend - and father of triplets - told him of the nightly struggles tending to three 3-month-old babies. The developer suggested his friend make audio recordings to capture the chaos of a trio of screaming infants in the middle of the night. Wouldn’t it be great if Dad could somehow share these moments with his kids when they were old enough to laugh at their tiny selves?  

That exchange inspired one of Incubate’s unique features: Nursery. The feature allows parents to send time-delayed messages to their kids from the moment they are born. Parents simply create an account, which their child can access when they get their first mobile device. Anyone with an account can exchange messages and see how many messages await them in the future but - and here’s the clever bit - they can’t access the message or see the identity of the sender until the date set by the sender. Having a mystery text message that you can’t read for 25 years is the ultimate in delayed gratification, and a masterstroke of an emotional hook.

Asynchronous communication is not entirely new. Boomerang and Gmail both have options for time-delayed messages, as do Vine and Snapchat. But Incubate aims to promote the sharing of information with a little more gravitas than photographs of desserts. It’s about creating a time capsule capable of creating a bond through space and time. Until now, a dewy-eyed father packing his kid off to college can do his best to reminisce about his youth - and probably get rolled eyes and groans in return. With Incubate, it’s possible to capture and store precious memories as they happen, and share them in the future when they’ve taken on new significance.

 

April 18, 2015

Wrap Raises $3.5 Million in Series A Funding

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In today’s mobile era, content in increasingly digested in “bite-size” chunks. Wrap Media is a new company looking to develop a viable alternative to what it calls “wraps,” or small stories delivered as swipe-able content on mobile devices. The company has raised $3.5 million in Series A funding from FF Angel LLC and Raine Ventures. 

Launching a wrap from your mobile device is easy enough, and once launched you may swipe left or right through the assorted pages to view content. It’s also possible to watch embedded YouTube videos or tap through links to connect with Wrap on social media. As far as potential use goes, options include sharing stories and embedding coupons or merchandise you can purchase from automated business emails, such as digital receipts and order confirmations.  

The folks at Wrap Media stress that what they’ve created is not “another website creation service,” but a “presentation layer” that sits pretty atop any platform. While wraps are currently delivered via the mobile web, founder Eric Greenberg says the company’s long-term goal is to provide such experiences from anywhere, whether a small smartphone screen or a gigantic living room television.  

Greenberg had the idea for Wrap while building a mobile gifting app through a card-based user interface. He found the interface had more potential than the app itself, and subsequently shifted company focus to the interface. Greenberg is also the founder of several other companies, including systems integrators Scient and Viant. 

Wrap’s web-based authoring service provides companies with the ability to create app-like messages using simplistic tools, and messages may be shared as links on social media, SMS, and email. The idea is to provide a new format for mobile marketing so companies can share their stories without having to invest in serious development and design resources, even though it still looks like they did. Wraps are created in 15 minutes or over the course of a few hours depending on the amount of content involved. 

“This is a story that can’t be told today…because you’d have to develop something from scratch. And to do something like this, is a minimum of six figures,” Greenberg explained. “So instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with developers and designers, you can literally create these interactive experiences with a junior marketing manager, with no code and no design experience.”  

Companies currently utilizing Wrap’s services include CBS Interactive, Loverly, and StumbleUpon. Wrap is also in talks with some 50 other companies. Pricing is on a transitional basis as well as software-as-a-service, as Wrap is still in private beta. Service is intended to start around $300-$500 per month. 

The $3.5 million Wrap has acquired in funding includes $3 million from Founders Fund’s seed stage fund FF Angel LLC and Raine Ventures. The remaining $500,000 is out of Greenberg’s pocket. He also seeded the company with another $2.5 million, resulting in $6 million in raised funds. 

Wrap is expected to launch in September 2015. 

 

April 17, 2015

Apple Watch Pre-Orders Reach a Million

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Apple recently began pre-selling three versions of its new smart watch to the world, with orders now hitting the one million mark. And that’s just in the United States.  

Unsurprisingly called the Apple Watch, the device allows you to read emails, send messages, and answer iPhone calls, all from the convenience of your wrist. A Taptic Engine feature alerts you through—you guessed it—a tap, so no notifications are missed. The Digital Touch feature makes it easy to communicate by sending a tap, sketch, or heartbeat. There’s even health and fitness features, as well as Apple Pay.  

The watch is available in aforementioned three collections: Apple Watch Sport, priced at $349 and $399; Apple Watch, which costs between $549 to $1,099; and Apple Watch Edition, a watch created from custom rose or yellow 18-karat gold alloys. Prices for the Edition start at $10,000. 

"Apple users were waiting for the Apple watch, so when we saw this huge surge in demand, we were not surprised at all," Jaimee Minney, vice president of marketing and public relations for Slice Intelligence, told ABC News. 

The future of the Apple Watch looks good despite what Slice calls “ho-hum reviews, even by some of the most ardent Apple fans.” According to the company, the average Apple Watch buyer ordered 1.3 watches, spending $503.83 per watch. Consumers opting for the Apple Watch Sport edition spent $382.83 per device, while those ordering the Apple Watch edition spent $707.04. 

“Among those buying an Apple Watch, 72 percent purchased an Apple product in the past two years -- iPhone, Apple computer or iPad -- and 21 percent of them pre-ordered an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus mere months ago,” Minney wrote in a recent blog post. “Nearly one-third purchased two Apple products and 11 percent bought all three devices, in addition to their new watch.” 

Watch accessories are also popular, with Minney noting consumers who purchased the Apple Watch or the Sport edition choosing the larger 42mm case. The space gray aluminum case is a favorite as well, edging out the silver and space black cases. 

“The Black Sport Band was by far the most popular among both Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport buyers, with 49 percent overall pre-ordering one, followed by the White Sport Band at 16 percent and the more expensive Milanese Loop -- $149 versus $49 for the black Sport band -- rounding out the top three at around 10 percent,” Minney remarked.  

According to Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics, should Apple continue to see one million units per quarter the company would easily become one of the most profitable watchmakers in the world. This means second to Swatch in regards to profitability and only just behind the legendary Rolex brand. 

“If you told people about a new Apple product that cost $400 and asked them if they would buy it, 1 million people would say yes," Entner said. "They don’t even need to know what it is -- and more often than not they wouldn’t be disappointed. Since the second coming of Steve Jobs, the missteps that Apple has taken are few and far between.” 

 

April 15, 2015

Mobile Devices Mostly Impervious to Hackers, say Verizon

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Mobile has revolutionized the tech industry, creating as many new businesses as it has destroyed old ones. In the past decade, a ‘marketing strategy’ has turned into a ‘digital marketing strategy’ before morphing swiftly into a ‘mobile marketing strategy’ and it’s left countless heads spinning. 

Oddly, there is one perennial area of concern for the industry that has remained largely untouched by the smartphone: hacking. 

According to a recent report from Verizon, mobile devices are seldom used by hackers to commit their nefarious deeds, which is not all that surprising, given the limitations of inputting complex code into small-screen devices. Perhaps more surprising is just how few mobile devices are targeted by hackers. 

The Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) is Verizon’s annual paper on cybersecurity issues. This year’s DBIR has concluded that “mobile devices are not a preferred vector in data breaches.” In other words: criminals use laptops and desktops to hack into networks.

The report draws on data from tens of millions of mobile devices on Verizon’s own network. It found just 0.03% of tablets and smartphones were infected with serious malware - significantly below the 0.68% rate of infection from unwanted software affecting non-mobile devices. 

That’s not all the good news. The few infections that make it through to our phones are generally less serious than the types of spyware and malware affecting our computers. The lion’s share of ‘successful’ mobile viruses were relatively harmless pieces of ‘adnoyance’ software, which are aimed at trying to direct users to purchase security packages and other money-making schemes, or collect personal data. These types of infection are also much easier to spot than the more malicious desktop infractions. 

Apple users won’t be surprised to learn that the vast majority of infections were found on open-source Android devices. In fact, most suspicious activity logged on iOS devices were failed ‘hit and hope’ scams aimed at Android users. 

This information, while reassuring, is not an excuse for lax security practices. But it does suggest the new model of closed, app-based software - designed to be impervious to hackers - is working, and that can only be a good thing. As more and more online activity is conducted via mobile devices, the tolerance for security breaches will (hopefully) continue to plummet. 

 

April 06, 2015

The SMS Encryption App that Simplifies Private Communication

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The NationalSecurity Agency (NSA) and the (British) Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been accused of hacking into servers and SIM cards to obtain access to text messages. “Man in the middle attack” is also a problem, and can occur when using an un-encrypted, wifi-based text messaging service. If an individual hacks into the wifi network, the person can access text messages. 

Encryption is therefore increasingly the only way to maintain a sense of privacy, and while it’s traditionally been difficult for non-techies to understand, new high-quality, user-friendly software has become available. Most notably, app developer Open Whisper Systems recently released an updated version of their encryption app Signal for iPhones and Android phones. In the app, entitled Signal 2.0, supported encrypted text messages use a protocol called TextSecure, which allows users to communicate using voice and text knowing nothing will be intercepted over the internet. 

The app encrypts data when sending text messages as long as the person receiving the text is also running Signal 2.0. The app is celebrated as offering “peace of mind,” and unlike similar products, it features an open source code for expert inspection. It also supports “forward secrecy,” which prevents hackers from decrypting old messages should they steal encryption keys. 

Signal 2.0 offers extra security for iPhone users, as it’s the “one place” where all their communications are always fully encrypted. Other apps, such as Apple’s iMessage, may utilize strong encryption tactics, but only when there’s a proper data connection between two Apple devices. When this is not the case, the app reverts to insecure SMS messaging. The app doesn’t feature forward secrecy or an inspectable source code, either. 

Another Signal 2.0 advantage? It allows “power users” to verify whom they’re communicating with, which provides confirmation that the encryption isn’t being hacked. Using iMessage means “taking Apple’s word for it.” 

Open Whisper Systems and its founder Moxie Marlinspike are enjoying growing reputations for blending reliable encryption with the convenience of mobile. The company also recently partnered with the makers of WhatsApp to add encryption to the messaging product. 

“We want to make private communication simple,” says Marlinspike, who designed the encryption protocols behind his company’s apps. “Our objective is to do new cryptographic research and development that advances the state of the art while simultaneously making it frictionless and accessible for anyone.”

The app is currently split into two options for Android users--TextSecure for private messaging and RedPhone for private calls. “We’re working towards a single unified Signal app for Android, iPhone and the desktop,” says Marlinspike. 

Encryption tools are only as good as the devices they’re installed on, but Signal 2.0 is still paving the way to make spying on billions of people nearly impossible. 

 

April 05, 2015

Mobile Messaging: The Ultimate Customer Service Helpdesk

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Mobile marketing has witnessed a decade of innovation during which thousands upon thousands of apps have flooded the marketplace, doing everything from fitness tracking to spread betting. But what if there was no need for a separate app for each task? What if you could use a single interface to request and receive goods and services? 

The rise of apps like Magic has brought ‘conversational commerce’ - in which customers can make specific requests via SMS messaging - to the forefront. Facebook is soon to launch it’s own Magic-like on-demand text service. Meanwhile, messaging app SnapChat is expanding to offer a commercial iteration of its service - SnapCash - which allows users to make transactions for products. 

This is all relatively new stuff in the United States, but Asia has been harnessing the full potential of SMS messaging as a catch-all service tool for some years. In China, WeChat gives its 440 million users a single portal through which they can pay bills, order taxis and shop; the app has generated more than $1.1 billion in revenue since launching in 2011. In Japan, LinePay provides a similar service. 

In the U.S., most of the recent buzz around ‘conversational commerce’ has focused on Magic, the app that allows you to request any service that exists in the real world, from dry cleaning to dry stonewalling. The so-called ‘concierge’ service uses a winning combination of human and artificial intelligence to meet the demands of its growing customer base.

Other start-ups have followed suit. Scratch, for instance, offers a ‘professional shopper’ to not only help facilitate purchases, but actually offer fashion advice along the way. Native pulls off a similar trick in the travel world, working as a personalized travel assistant to help you plan every part of your trip via SMS messaging. 

The implications of this development are significant for the future of mobile. The limitations of the mobile interface have always been down to the problems of shrinking a desktop internet onto small screens. Fiddly shopping carts and multiple apps make for a fractious, incomplete experience. But the text message was made for small screen devices. Now it is liberating us from the process of browsing, comparing and purchasing goods which, even on a mobile-friendly site or app, is a little unwieldy.

 

April 04, 2015

Smartphones Are Now the Dominant Mobile Device

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Unless you’ve been living under a frightfully large rock, you know the impact smartphones have had on the digital industry. Unsurprisingly the devices now make up 75% of the mobile phone market, a 10% increase from a year ago and a 73% increase from 10 years ago, according to Internet analytics firm comScore. 

Three-quarters of Americans aged 13 or older own smartphones, with the rest using basic cellphones, such as flip phones and TracFones. The percentage of people who don’t own a cellphone at all….well, that number is so low it’s not even worth discussing.  

“If you take a look at the big picture, it’s how mobile has taken over and become the dominant platform through which people engage in digital media,” said Andrew Lipsman, vice president of marketing and insights at comScore.  

People are spending more and more time in front of digital screens despite the fact that desktop use has gone down the tubes. Still, people are glued to their screens practically all day and night, whether on their way to work, watching TV, or any other time thanks to the prevalence of smartphones and tablets.  

The positive side to this screen addiction is the ability to stay better informed and even learn a thing or two more quickly, noted Lipsman. The negative side is a bit more complicated, as new research recently released by digital technology firm Apigee in San Jose, CA and Stanford University’s Mobile Innovation Group, found a “deepening dependence” on smartphones in terms of social interaction. Dependency was most severe among smartphone users, who say they’re on their phones “nearly all the time,” including while at family dinners. 

Shockingly, 21% of smartphone users said they couldn’t sustain a relationship with a partner without their phone apps, and 19% of users said they could not make new friends without the the assistance of their devices. Younger Americans use smartphones the most (surprise, surprise), with at least 85% of citizens ages 13 to 44 owning one, according to comScore. 

The numbers decline with age: 76% of people ages 45 to 54 use smartphones, and 63% of those ages 55 to 64 use such devices. The percentage is 48% people ages 65 or older. 

Apple devices remain the most popular, as they make up 41% of the market. The company is followed by Samsung, LG, Motorola, and HTC at 29%, 8%, 5%, and 4% respectively. 

Wondering about the most popular smartphone apps? Facebook still rules them all with 70% of the market, followed by YouTube (55%), Google Play (52%), Google Search (52%), and Facebook Messenger (47%). 

What will become of the country’s smartphone addiction? Only time will tell….

 

March 31, 2015

SMS vs. MMS

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Mobile marketing is nowhere near critical mass. For a variety of reasons, this marketing channel is not as widely used as experts predict for the future—many speculate the distinction between SMS and MMS messaging is not popularly understood, and as a result, has slowed growth. But it’s really not that complicated, and choosing the right tactic for a marketing campaign doesn’t have to be a painstaking process of trial and error. Before we jump into the unique traits and characteristics of each, let’s look at a few basic similarities.

 

Similarities

Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Message Service (MMS) are both mobile marketing tactics that are designed to complement a marketing strategy by providing content directly to consumers’ handsets or mobile devices. SMS and MMS work to instantaneously provide content directly to users, engaging consumers via their mobile device, the result of which is highly effective, reliable and progressive. 

 

Differences

The most obvious difference between the two is made clear by their names. SMS is a text-based service that does not provide users with rich media content. Conversely, MMS allows users to send a variety of media including images, animated .GIF, and short video or audio files. This is where the divergence really begins, as the latter may cost more money to produce but also delivers a substantially higher return on investment. 

 

MMS Advantages 

MMS messages can be sent peer-to-peer from mobile phones, a mobile messaging service provider, or a website. These multimedia messages enjoy higher customer engagement, and better click-through-rates. What’s more, MMS increases campaign opt-ins by 20% over SMS and subscribers are more likely to engage with the content on social media outlets. 

The quality of MMS content is perceived as much higher than SMS and has a well-maintained handset database. Real-time content transcoding makes sending media faster and with unlimited charters and device detection, the message is louder and goes further. Most phones already support MMS messages and don’t require further enablement. MMS does not require data from the end user. 

 

SMS Advantages 

 

While SMS doesn’t have the same branding opportunities as MMS, it does offer useful insight by providing user data that’s not so easily collected by MMS messages. 

Although the standard SMS message is limited to 160 characters, this may include a link that tracks back to a website where useful information can be collected, or further online engagement can occur. The drawback, of course, is that data is required by the end user and can sometimes have hidden costs for the user as well. This is one of the more debated issues surrounding SMS messaging today, as extraneous data usage can often cause more harm than good when trying to develop a loyal mobile audience. 

SMS can be sent peer-to-peer or through a mobile messaging service provider. SMS is incredibly fast, with 99.99% delivered in under 15 seconds. Currently, SMS delivers more than 3 billion messages a year, across most small US carriers. 

Hopefully by getting a better handle on what these two marketing tactics do, marketers will be ready to help further realize the advantages and disadvantages of using these highly effective marketing tools. 

 

 

March 30, 2015

Analytics App Raises $34 Million

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In search of the best analytics tool for your marketing app? Localytics might be the answer to your app-tastic prayers. A service app that offers “analytics, insights, and marketing solutions in one place,” Localytics has raised $34 million in Series D funding so far.  

The company initially focused on app analytics, but CEO Raj Aggarwal noted that customers also called for tools that made it easy to move forward with their newly-acquired data. This prompted the Localytics team to add push notifications, integration with sales and business intelligence software, email marketing, and in-app messaging. Aggarwal explained that businesses are in need of “all the insights and tools to engage users and meet their expectations for an amazing app experience, in one place.”  

He pointed out that apps are an essential component of the digital experience, and as such, businesses need their marketing and product teams to use the same tools. Disparate data sets are quickly becoming a thing of the past.  

Localytics offers real-time, granular data analytics that answer questions such as, “How frequently do consumers visit my app?”, “How long does the average user spend on my app per visit?”, “What are people doing in my app?” and “Why aren’t my app users converting?” among other relevant queries. The insights portion of Localytics shows which demographic your app targets, what features pique consumer interest the longest, how many purchases were made over the last 15 days, and what makes some users “more valuable” than others. 

As far as marketing services, Localytics offers push messaging that helps re-engage customers, in-app messaging that lets users know about new features, and features answers to attribution questions, such as where to invest in terms of advertising. A/B testing is also part of the app’s marketing services, and helps determine what drives the most conversions, and which call to actions are best for specific campaigns.  

Localytics is currently used by some 32,000 apps, including those for eBay, ESPN, Fox, The New York Times, and the upcoming HBO Now app. 

The company will soon introduce a new predictive marketing feature, which is designed to aid businesses in discovering which customers are most likely to abandon the app. Once such customers are identified, they’ll receive targeted messages convincing them to keep using it. This marketing feature also determines which customers are willing to spend more on the app, and subsequently tempts them with targeted deals.

Current Localytics investors include Sapphire Ventures, Foundation Capital, and Polaris Partners.

 

March 27, 2015

Mobile Marketing is Going Hyper-Local

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Mobile marketing has taken huge strides towards fulfilling the potential of geo-targeting technology, allowing local businesses to make the most of their sphere of influence. The only way for geo-location techniques to go is inward, reaching ever-more specific parts of the local economy.

Mobile marketing is doing just that, placing an increasing emphasis on attracting foot traffic to brick and mortar retail outlets. The industry is now able to service international brands with bespoke campaigns in multiple locations using region-specific methods capable of targeting users to a single square foot. 

This ultimate refinement of mobile marketing tactics is a real game changer. A heady cocktail of beacons, GPS, location information gathered from existing interactions and other geolocaters is ushering in a new era of hyper-local mobile marketing so precise it’s hard to imagine how it could improve further.

Having such devastatingly effective mobile marketing tactics available at the local level is helping small businesses maximize their efficiency on tight budgets. For a relatively low cost, small businesses can quickly, reliably reach the widest audience they can serve, via a combination of in-app messaging, web ads, text messages, MMS and push notifications. 

So what next? With such sophistication already on display, where targeted mobile marketing could go now is anybody’s guess. Some mobile marketers are considering adjusting their services to allow for weather, which would let marketers better judge the prime time to pitch discounts. It might not be relevant to every business, but purveyors of ice cream or rooftop cocktails could really use knowing if it’s about to rain the moment they’ve sent their 50% discount coupon to hundreds of people. Other local data like traffic conditions may also begin to play a part in geo-location technology. 

The tools at our disposal allows imaginative approaches to marketing to flourish, unencumbered by technological limits. Nobody can say for certain what the next few years hold for mobile marketing - that’s why it’s so exciting. But if the rapid rate of change we’ve seen take place over the past decade continues, we can be confident that the mobile landscape of 2025 will look very different to the one we see today.